Posts Tagged ‘ESPN.com’

The Celtics-Clippers Saga Continues …





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Admit it, you’re going to miss DeAndre Jordan in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform. You’re going to miss the dunks and the off-court comic pairing with Clippers All-Star Blake Griffin.

But if we are reading this Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Clippers-Doc Rivers trade situation right, Jordan is headed to Boston in one part of a complex potential trade scenario that also will include Rivers departing Boston for the Clippers and the chance to chase championships with a few familiar faces (Kevin Garnett and perhaps Paul Pierce) as well as a few new ones (Griffin and potentially Chris Paul).

Monday’s hot name, Eric Bledsoe, the player both sides refused to budge on, is apparently out of the deal now.

It’s complicated, I know. But aren’t these blockbuster scenarios always a bit more complicated than the average trade?

The latest from around the basketball world on this saga …

Celtics ready to deal for Jordan and two first-round Draft picks …

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: After pushing for the Clippers to take back long-term contracts, the Celtics relented and have shown willingness to complete the deal for DeAndre Jordan and two first-round draft picks, sources said. The Clippers are willing to give the Celtics Jordan and one draft pick, but were resisting a second future pick, sources said.

The two teams are planning to talk again on Tuesday morning, and the fragile negotiations could climax over the draft pick compensation, sources said.

If the Clippers become the championship contenders that they expected this trade will make them, the additional draft pick would likely be near the end of the first round.

 The financial investment in this deal for Los Angeles is unprecedented for the franchise, and it could be giving it 11th-hour pause. The Clippers must pay a $3.5 million trade kicker on Jordan’s contract and finalize an agreement with Rivers on a five-year deal worth approximately $35 million, league sources said.

Serious talks but still no deal …

Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com: Sources close to the process told ESPN.com that the Celtics and Clippers held “substantive discussions” Monday on the proposed multilayered transactions that would send Rivers and Celtics star Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles. But the teams, sources say, remain unable to agree on a final trade framework to go through with the two deals, even after Boston relented on its insistence that the Clippers include prized young guard Eric Bledsoe as part of the package for Rivers and Garnett.

Another element of the talks, sources said, is the negotiations between Rivers and the Clippers on a coaching contract. Rivers has three years left on his original five-year, $35 million deal with the Celtics and will be looking to stay in the same salary range if Boston ultimately receives what it deems sufficient compensation to let the 51-year-old out of that deal.

So the Clippers, in what NBA coaching sources are terming a “separate process,” have moved ahead with their coaching search just in case, for one reason or another, they’ll be unable to pry Rivers out of Boston. They’ve arranged sitdowns this week for Byron Scott (Tuesday) and Brian Shaw (Wednesday) with Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Lionel Hollins, the other finalist for the Clippers’ job before the pursuit of Rivers got serious, already met with Sterling.

Numerous sources connected to talks continued to express optimism Monday that the Celtics and Clippers will eventually agree to terms this week, with some interpreting the Clippers’ plans to resume talks with the likes of Shaw and Scott as their latest thinly veiled message to the Celtics that they aren’t afraid to walk away from the table.

“It’s a dance right now,” said one source close to the process. “I think it’ll eventually happen. They’re just staring at each other.”

Is Ainge satisfied with this haul?

Sam Amick of USA Today: The only question that matters at the moment is whether Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge eventually will decide that acquiring fifth-year center DeAndre Jordan and two future first-round picks is fair compensation for losing his coach and his 37-year-old big man.

If he does, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, this deal will likely get done. If he doesn’t, and instead insists that third-year Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe must also be in the trade, then Rivers and Garnett would stay put and the Clippers would simply hire one of the coaching candidates who have interviewed for their vacant job (former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins and Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw lead that group).

While Celtics small forward Paul Pierce is not part of the trade talks, he could be bought out of the final year of his contract this July ($5 million of his $15.3 million) and join Rivers and Garnett with the Clippers as a free agent if this deal went down. The people spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.

While Rivers would not technically be part of the trade, the Celtics would allow the Clippers to sign him as part of the agreement. Rivers has a non-compete clause in his contract that would be nullified, and he would forgo the three years and $21 million remaining on his Celtics contract.The Clippers are prepared to pay him just less than $7 million annually, but only if they can bring him in without mortgaging their future by losing Bledsoe.

Yet if Rivers were willing consider giving back some of his earnings as a way to ease Ainge’s pain, that could be a way to nudge these negotiations along. The Celtics could move forward with a new coach whose salary would be, in essence, paid for by the old coach.

Rivers still grappling with his decision?

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: If the Celtics plan to part with Rivers, they want a young piece, draft picks and salary cap relief. Realizing that signing [Jason] Terry and [Courtney] Lee to multiyear deals at the mid-level exception (5-plus million) was a mistake, the Celtics would prefer the Clippers accept those deals to facilitate clearance to negotiate a contract with Rivers.

Meanwhile, a source close to Rivers told the Globe that Rivers is still grappling with the decision, especially as the trade gets more complicated and negotiations more contentious. The talk of the Clippers acquiring Paul Pierce in the trade are remote, especially since the Celtics would have to honor his deal and send him to the Clippers with a $15 million salary.

And don’t expect the Celtics to waive Pierce just to see him sign with the Clippers during free agency. If they decide to trade Pierce, and NBA sources said the team is open to the possibility, they want a return for his services unless waiving him will allow him enough salary cap space to sign a solid free agent.

The consensus around the league is that a decision on this has to be made this week and Rivers is looking worse by the day because of his indecisiveness.

Key decision makers, Ainge and Sacks, stuck in neutral … 

Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times: The main characters are Boston Coach Doc Rivers and All-Star forward Kevin Garnett, trying to get to the Clippers as a duo. The men calling the shots — Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Clippers vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks — can’t seem to reach agreement on a mutually satisfactory deal.

So both organizations were stuck in neutral by Monday evening after player names were tossed back and forth, the talks at a standstill but not completely over, according to NBA executives who did not want to be identified by name because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the situation.

The two sides intend to keep the talks alive Tuesday. But the Clippers also plan to have coaching candidates Byron Scott and Brian Shaw meet with owner Donald Sterling this week in case the team can’t make a deal to get Rivers, executives said.

Shaw, associate head coach of the Indiana Pacers, on Tuesday is scheduled to meet for the second time with the Denver Nuggets about their head-coach vacancy. Then Shaw is to meet with Sterling on Wednesday. Shaw interviewed face to face with the Clippers last week, but this will be his first sit-down with Sterling, executives said.

Scott, former coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets, is scheduled to meet with Sterling on Tuesday afternoon, the executives said. Scott also met with the Clippers last Tuesday but didn’t talk with Sterling.



Doc Rivers And The Clippers Courting?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The idea of Doc Rivers coaching an All-Star point guard and big man during the 2013-14 NBA season is a given, right?

But will it be Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett … or Chris Paul and Blake Griffin?

Bewildered and confused Boston Celtics fans have to be wondering what the future holds with reports that there could be mutual interest between the Celtics’ coach and the Clippers, per The Los Angeles Times and ESPN.com.

It’s a speculation party that is sure to leave Celtics fans with indigestion as they await the fate of their proud (but clearly rebuilding) team. Rivers left the door ajar at season’s end, saying that he wasn’t sure what was in store with Rondo (knee injury), Garnett (age) and Paul Pierce (age, final year of contract) all in the crosshairs during a huge summer.

The idea of Rivers forgoing the final three years and $21 million of his deal with the Celtics was sparked by a nugget from ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard that indicated Rivers is contemplating a change.

While it wouldn’t be a complete shocker, it would confirm rumblings that began in May, when the Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs by the New York Knicks. Celtics boss Danny Ainge quieted that chatter early on, but the ensuing coaching carousel that has left the Clippers without a replacement for coach Vinny Del Negro has circled around to this possibility that Rivers could be a potential option, as ESPN.com‘s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne detail here:

Sources told ESPN.com on Thursday that Rivers is highly intrigued by the idea of coaching the Clippers in the event that he and the Celtics part company after nine seasons together and one championship in 2008. Sources say the Clippers, meanwhile, would immediately vault Rivers to the top of their list if he became available as they continue a coaching search that, to this point, has focused on Brian Shaw, Byron Scott and Lionel Hollins.

The Los Angeles Times, citing several NBA executives, reported Wednesday that if Rivers decides he doesn’t want to coach in Boston anymore, the Clippers would be interested in him and he would become their No. 1 choice.

ESPN.com has also learned the Celtics and Clippers — in an offshoot of February’s Kevin Garnett-to-L.A. trade talks — discussed expanded trade scenarios that could have sent both Garnett and close friend Paul Pierce to the Clippers before the league’s Feb. 21 trade deadline.

Sources say those talks, before breaking down, were centered on Boston getting back both prized Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe and young center DeAndre Jordan and did not involve Clippers star forward Blake Griffin.

It is not yet known whether the Clippers intend to revive those trade discussions and pursue either Garnett or Pierce — or both — in conjunction with this month’s NBA draft. But one source familiar with the Clippers’ thinking told ESPN.com the club plans to be “very aggressive” and “shake every tree” in terms of upgrading the roster this offseason. Acquiring Garnett or Pierce — or both — would make Rivers even more of a natural coaching target for the Clippers.

If that’s not enough speculation for you, this all comes at a time when the Clippers are in the midst of interviewing Shaw, Scott, Hollins and Nate McMillan.

The Clippers also have to consider that whoever they select needs to be someone who will help them recruit Paul to stick around this summer in free agency. With rumors that Paul and Dwight Howard, this summer’s other marquee free agent prize, have been in contact about teaming up together in the future, the frenzy will kick into overdrive.

Rivers certainly has a history of coaching superstars in those sorts of situations and the respect that comes along with being a championship coach.

It should be noted that Rivers has been courted several times before during his decade-long tenure in Boston and in the end decided to stick with the Celtics. Orlando, where the Rivers family resides, tried to lure him back to Central Florida with an offer to run the Magic’s entire basketball operation. Rivers considered his options, but in the end decided that loyalty to his players and the Celtics outweighed whatever opportunities might have awaited him in Orlando.

It’s unclear right now whether or not he’ll have to make a similar decision about what to do with the Clippers, but that won’t stop the speculation from spreading.

CP3 Steamed At Clippers, As He Should Be!





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If this is the Los Angeles Clippers’ way of wooing Chris Paul, they might want to come up with a new strategy.

Hanging your superstar out to dry by indicating he’s the reason coach Vinny Del Negro was not retained and that whatever other decisions are made rest on his shoulders is not a sound strategy. That’s especially true with Paul just a month away from the full-court press of free agency from suitors around the league.

Paul is reportedly upset about being thrown into the middle of this Del Negro mess, by Clippers owner Donald Sterling of all people, and he should be upset. CP3 has been mindful throughout this entire process to stay clear of any controversy regarding the Clippers’ front-office plans. Both he and All-Star forward Blake Griffin have been thrust into this drama, as the main culprits in the decision-making process that they are believed to have influenced, despite no evidence to support this.

Chris Broussard of ESPN The Magazine reports, via sources, that Paul is upset that he’s being portrayed as some sort of coach killer:

“He’s angry right now and his anger is directed toward the Clippers organization,” the source said. “Chris is a man of principle and if he feels like you’ve gone against his principles, it will affect how he feels about you. He’s very agitated that his name has been put out there as the reason for Vinny’s firing. He had nothing to do with it.”

This fire started last week, when Del Negro was fired and T.J. Simers of The Los Angeles Times put Sterling on the hot seat about the decision. Sterling didn’t name names, but he made it clear that the wishes of the players were a part of the process:

“The coach is a wonderful man, and I’m sad about the whole thing,” Sterling said.

“Was this done,” I asked, “just to hang on to Chris Paul?”

“I always want to be honest and not say anything that is not true,” Sterling said. “So I’d rather not say anything.

“But you know, the coach did a really good job. I think he did. And I liked working with him. There are just factors that make life very complicated and very challenging.”

So the Clippers are trying to hang on to Paul.

But don’t they already have him locked up? The team has done everything to make him comfortable, even hire his favorite PR guy from New Orleans.

Do the Clippers really think he would accept almost $28 million less to sign elsewhere?

“Here you have two inexperienced people running your basketball operation in [GM] Gary Sacks and [son-in-law] Eric Miller,” I told Sterling. “And Andy Roeser doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to basketball personnel decisions.

“So I wonder, is this decision being made because the players are now calling the shots? Am I off base?”

“No, you’re not off base,” Sterling said. “This is a players’ league, and, unfortunately, if you want to win you have to make the players happy. Don’t you think that’s true?”

I answered: “No. Money makes players happy.”

As stated, the Clippers can offer Paul more money than any other suitor that will chase him in free agency. Anyone assuming they’ll be able to buy their way out of this mess with Paul doesn’t really know the man.

Del Negro isn’t the first coach (and he won’t be the last) thrown in the trash bin because he didn’t get a ringing endorsement from his star players. Paul didn’t force the Clippers’ hand in this matter and didn’t have to. Trying to make Paul the scapegoat for the fact that Del Negro’s ego is bruised because his stars didn’t lobby on his behalf is childish at best.

It’s a cheap shot for a franchise that can’t afford to squander the opportunity it has with this star-studded core capable of leading the organization to new places — namely on the right side of the divide in a city practically painted in Lakers’ purple and gold.

The fact the franchise is throwing Paul under the bus long before free agency begins only reinforces the belief that the Clippers often serve as their own worst enemy in the court of public opinion. There have been rumors that Del Negro was going to be fired from the moment he was hired by the Clippers. To lay it all on the doorstep of Paul and Griffin after the fact is disingenuous to say the least.

Paul has every right to be upset about the way he’s being portrayed. He was going to weigh all of his free-agent options anyway, including the rumored joining of forces with Dwight Howard (and Al Horford) in Atlanta, where there is cap space galore and the chance to for the Hawks what he did for the Clippers.

If Del Negro is such a wonderful man and coach, Sterling should have stood by his guy and then allowed Paul to make a decision on his own future without the sort of foolishness that will be involved in the process now.

What’s Wrong With The Clippers?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That rant Vinny Del Negro unleashed on his team after Saturday night’s blowout loss to the Houston Rockets (sans James Harden) was not an elaborate pre-April Fool’s Day ruse. It was real.

“They played harder than we did,” Del Negro said. “We were terrible. Our effort was terrible, our attitude was terrible, our urgency was terrible. Very disappointed. I didn’t see the fight in us tonight, and we need guys to step up.”

“We’re fighting for a spot, and we come out with that second-half — pretty much the whole game — effort. It was poor.” Del Negro said. “I know it’s the fourth game in five nights, but that’s no excuse. We’ve got plenty of depth. No excuses. I don’t believe in that.”

The vitriol … the disappointment … all of it was real.

With seemingly everything to play for — a top-three seed in the Western Conference playoffs, home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, simple professional pride — the Clippers cannot find the energy to finish the season the way they started (with a bang).

The Clippers have fallen off the mark in the second half of the season, squandering a league-best 32-9 start by stumbling their way to a .500 finish (17-17) with seven games remaining in the season. Chris Paul‘s MVP turn during All-Star weekend might very well serve as the lone highlight for the Clippers during the season’s stretch run if they can’t shake out of their funk.

They managed a 7-7 record in March and didn’t exactly get off to a rousing start to this final month of the regular season with Monday night’s home loss to the Indiana Pacers, a game that saw the Clippers trail by as many as 24 points before closing the gap late in a 109-106 loss.

Deciphering exactly what’s wrong with the Clippers from a schematic standpoint is basically a waste of time. They have certain deficiencies that cannot be cured this season unless both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan magically locate reliable post moves overnight. That’s not meant as a slight to either of the talented young big men, it’s just a fact.

The Clippers are not capable of playing inside-out for long enough stretches to make other high-level teams uncomfortable. Kicking off a crucial, four-game home stand with a deflating loss to the Pacers is no way to inspire confidence. And when Paul, Jamal Crawford and the rest of the Clippers’ perimeter stars are taking turns struggling as well, it confirms all of the fears we’ve been expressing about this team since their second-half struggles began.

This is code red time for the Clippers. They’ve lost four of their last five games and the finger-pointing (direct and otherwise) has already begun. The effort and energy from the players seems to be lacking, suggesting an underlying issue between the players and the coach that is undefeated in terms of the final results (the coach always has to go).

Del Negro has taken a rather aggressive approach, tinkering with his rotations and even benching starters in an effort to jumpstart his team.

“It’s up to them,” Del Negro said of his players to ESPN.com‘s J.A. Adande after the loss to the Pacers. “All I can do is take them in and out of the games.”

For any of this to be said on a team with some of the best locker room leadership in the league (Paul, Caron Butler, Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups) is a bit startling.

Just as startling is Del Negro’s pointed criticism at his biggest stars, particularly his benching of Paul and Griffin recently, moves that are sure to erode the coach-player dynamic on a team that has always had issues in that regard under Del Negro. This madness is going on with a team that needs just one more win to clinch the franchise’s first 50-win season in history.

This puts the entire operation on alert for the postseason. If the Clippers slide in and then slide out just as quickly, then it’s anyone’s guess as to where the Clippers go from there in the offseason.

Start the playoffs on the road and suffer the fate then that you did during your recent tour through the Southwest Division, a 1-3 plank walk, and whatever is wrong with the Clippers will be someone else’s problem.

Del Negro won’t have to worry about it anymore!

LeBron To Cleveland? It Has Begun!





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The NBA trade deadline usually serves as the conspiracy theorist’s Christmas and July 4th all rolled into one. Wicked rumors, wild plots and just about anything the mind can imagine is fair game in the months, weeks and days leading up to the deadline.

It’s a rare occasion that the juiciest plot is saved for the hours and days after the deadline.

But that’s exactly where we are today, with the growing buzz surrounding Miami Heat superstar LeBron James and rumblings that he could return to his North Ohio roots in the free-agent summer of 2014 and conceivably play alongside Cavs All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, the man who succeeded him as the face of the franchise in Cleveland.

I’m not making this stuff up. Plenty of others beat me to it, as Michael Wallace of ESPN.com points out:

There seems to be growing speculation — both inside and outside of respected NBA media circles — that a James-Irving partnership could become a reality should James opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat in 2014 and return to Cleveland.

For now, James laughs off the notion — as he did after Sunday’s 109-105 win over the Cavaliers when he explained his motivation behind that harmless halftime connection with Irving, one of the NBA’s rising superstars.

“Oh, from Kyrie,” said an apparently fatigued James, who perked up when asked about dunking Irving’s miss. “That was an extension from All-Star Weekend.”

Exactly a week earlier, James and Irving played together on the East team that lost to the West in Houston during Irving’s first All-Star appearance. Whether they’ll establish any meaningful chemistry as teammates on the same roster is an issue James bypassed Sunday like a helpless defender.

“I can’t worry about, you know, speculation or rumors,” James said after the Heat extended their longest winning streak of the season to 11 games. “My only focus right now is to win another championship [in Miami]. What we’re doing on the floor right now is what it’s all about. We’re playing good ball right now, trying to win a championship. So, you know, I can’t worry about what people say.”

It’s a great attitude to have, because people have quite a bit to say about it. Greg Cote of the Miami Herald sounds the alarm in South Florida, where the subject (even in its conspiracy theory infancy) has obviously touched a nerve:

How would Miami feel if James opted out and left in ’14? How should we? Would it matter if the Heat collected another title or two this season or next, or would the feelings either way be the same?

I would imagine many fans and likely most would thank James for the thrill ride and the parade(s), understand his desire to return to Cleveland, and wish him well.

I would also imagine many others would be angry and see him as turning his back on the city that embraced him when everyone else hated him. The city where he enjoyed his greatest success.

There would be plenty in either camp whether James left with one championship ring, two or even three, and it’s tough to say where sentiment would mainly fall.

What I mostly think is that I hope we never find out. James is such an extraordinary talent I have no trouble blurring the line between journalist and fan in this case and hoping Miami finds a way to re-sign him. Selfishly, I would love for James to end his career here. I only wish I believed he would.

Sunday will be interesting because both his teams will be on the court when the Cavs visit the Heat: The one renting his services, and the one that still owns his heart.

It feels like it has already begun.

The Long Goodbye.

Heat fans will at least have seen this one coming, if it ever does. Cavaliers fans never imagined James would depart the way he did. And it’s taken the ones who have gotten over it lots of time (and plenty of Kyrie) to steer clear of the primal instincts that accompany a breakup as brutal as the one they had with James.

It doesn’t help matters when folks like Denver Nuggets coach George Karl weigh in with comments like these, to Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports Florida:

 “I think LeBron is at that stage where he’s challenging himself to motivate him to do something that’s maybe more difficult. I could see him maybe (returning to the Cavaliers). I see (Cleveland point guard Kyrie) Irving maybe being a reason for that.”

James had that classy, if not typical, response mentioned above.

“That’s the first time I’ve heard it,” he said. “My only focus now is to win another championship. I can’t worry about speculation or rumors. What we’re doing on the floor right now is what it’s all about. We’re playing good ball right now. We’re trying to win a championship. I can’t worry about what people say.”

And ultimately, he’s right. He can’t worry about what people say.

That doesn’t mean it’ll slow the tide of conspiracy theorists who watched him react to Irving’s 3-point shooting fireworks in Houston during All-Star weekend or to any other gesture that can be manipulated to support their theories.

The only thing that will silence all of this chatter is the summer of 2014 coming and going without LeBron returning to his roots!

Lakers’ Drama Soars To New Heights





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You have to wonder what Joe “Jellybean” Bryant has to say about the mess that has become the Los Angeles Lakers’ season and the superstar dynamic between All-Star starters Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard?

We’ve already heard from just about everyone else, and that includes Howard’s father, Dwight Howard Sr. Howard’s father opened up to Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, defending his son on one hand and taking direct aim at Bryant and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni:

“I told him before he said it publicly, ‘It’s your career. No person can say what you need to do or not do. You can’t worry about what Kobe or anybody else says,’” the elder Howard said. “Nobody can say what Kobe said — that’s stepping into another man’s shoes. I understand what Kobe was trying to do, but he went about it the wrong way. He’s trying to win a championship. But Dwight has to tell Kobe, ‘I appreciate your opinion, but that doesn’t matter. We’re two men on this team. We need to be reasonable about this.’”

Dwight Sr. said he believed Bryant was trying to motivate his son, but that the advice was misplaced, adding: “The problem is the coach. (D’Antoni) needs to step in and say, ‘You guys have got to be quiet. We’re trying to secure something here. Dwight is probably looking at the coach, thinking, ‘What are you going to do?’ I promise, if that had been Stan Van Gundy, that wouldn’t have happened. (Howard) wouldn’t have been admonished publicly. I think the coach has a lot to do with who controls Kobe’s mouth right now.”

This latest round of drama, coming on the heels of Bryant suggesting that Howard needed to play through whatever pain is associated with his torn labrum, and Howard firing back and suggesting that Bryant is no doctor and need not be concerned with how he handles himself on the injury front, should make for an entertaining pregame locker room scene today in Miami.

The Lakers face LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the defending world champion Miami Heat for the second and final time this season this afternoon (3:30 ET, ABC). It’s a game that will have the undivided attention of the basketball world for reasons other than the always anticipated Kobe-LeBron dynamic.

Few dramas in the history of the league have dragged the fathers of famous sons into the fray.

But here we are, with the Lakers seemingly on the verge of complete collapse or stunning renaissance every night, trying to sort out who is right or wrong in a public dust-up between superstars that should never have gone this far. Whatever issues Kobe and Dwight (Jr.) have should never have made it out of the locker room. So in that regard, Dwight Sr. makes a valid point about the responsibility that lies with D’Antoni.

Even D’Antoni, who insists that he and his stars are fine (despite the obvious evidence to the contrary), didn’t seem to object to a father protecting his son:

D’Antoni said, “We’re good,” when asked about the state of things between him and the two Lakers’ All-Stars, and shrugged off the comments made by Howard’s father.

“That’s cool,” D’Antoni said. “He should, he’s the father, he should defend his son. But I thought we had that [meeting] in Memphis. Maybe we have to do it again.”

Bryant, for his part, took the liberty of throwing the onus back on the media, a typical and easy response from a veteran of his fair share of teammate drama (Shaquille O’Neal …). He suggested that this has gone on all year, “people have been trying to hang on to stuff. He’s just got to go do his job, man. Just rebound, defend and we do our jobs and [fulfill] our roles on what we have to do to help us win. It’s not rocket science.”

That’s easier said than done when you’re on the receiving end of all of the verbal shots fired. Howard has been in retreat from the very start of this union and it almost feels like his father simply got fed up with his son being the scapegoat for all that’s gone wrong for the Lakers this season.

All that said, fathers often know their sons best. And there’s something else the elder Howard said about his son that speaks to the root of young Dwight’s issue with not only the Lakers but also with Los Angeles and his place in that fair city:

“L.A. has been like humble pie for him,” he said. “When you go from being the man in one city (Orlando) to second or third tier, it takes a toll on you mentally.”

Last I checked, Dwight Howard is the man who wanted out of Orlando. He was “the man” in that city but decided against remaining in that one city for whatever his reasons were then and are today. So if anyone is ultimately to blame for the hoops disaster that has unfolded in Los Angeles this season, “Junior” has to shoulder the bulk of that burden.

If there is a solution to be had,and at this point there is little faith that there is, it won’t come from fathers or mothers, girlfriends or cousins, Dr. Phil (the guy on TV, not Jackson) or Oprah or anyone else.

The only resolution to this issue will come from the two men at the center of it all. They need to resolve their issues, right the Lakers’ ship and guide this team into the postseason. Because if they don’t, the fallout will make all of this drama seem like child’s play compared to the firestorm that a crashed and burned season can bring in Los Angeles.

Kobe Playing ‘The Right Way’





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Our sample size is just two games, so we know our science is a bit limited in this latest theory on how to cure what ails the Los Angeles Lakers (if that is indeed still possible).

Twice this season Kobe Bryant has finished games with 11 or more assists and the Lakers are 2-0 in those games, including Friday night’s trouncing of the Utah Jazz, and won by a combined 29 points.

Even for the math-challenged members of our hoops tribe, that essentially means a giving (assists) Kobe is much more beneficial to the  Lakers than a taking (shots) Kobe. He only had 10 shot attempts in the win over the Jazz to go along with his season-high 14 assists, one shy of his career-high set in (wait for it) 2002.

Kobe’s near triple-double in the win over the Jazz inspired some interesting praise/feedback from Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni (above), who described the performance as Kobe “playing the right way.”

Even Bryant admitted as much (via Twitter):

But will he be able to resist his scorer’s instincts every night for the good of the rest of the team? That remains to be seen. This afternoon’s matinée against the Oklahoma City Thunder (3:30 p.m. on ABC) will provide our first glimpse into whether or not Friday night’s game was just a temporary statistical anomaly or if it is indeed a fresh and new approach to things for the man called Mamba.

His teammates, one large one in particular, know which way they’d like to see Bryant’s game trend. My main man Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com explains:

Bryant’s 10 shot attempts also tied a season low, but by limiting his shots, it spread out opportunities to Dwight Howard, who was 8 of 12 from the floor for 17 points, after totaling just 19 shots combined during the Lakers’ four-game losing streak entering Friday.

“I think for a lot of bigs, when we’re fed and we eat a little bit, we’re happy,” Howard said on Saturday. “Just like men. Give us some food, we’re good. We don’t eat, we’re grumpy.”

Howard said Bryant’s adjustment on offense helped not just him, but the entire team.

“We have to play for each other to win,” Howard said. “All of us have to sacrifice part of who we are, part of who we’ve been, especially on the offensive end for the team. Still bring the same kind of energy, but we have to figure out a way to all put it together. I’m sure everybody on this team wants to be the guy to score, make plays and all that stuff, but we have to figure out ways to do it together. If you get everybody else involved early and throughout the game, it just makes it tough for teams to guard.

“(Bryant) did a great job of that (Friday) night. When he plays that way, it makes it tough for teams because he’s passing. He’s throwing lobs. He’s picking the defense apart. Now he can get the chance to go one-on-one, where he’s dangerous.”

After the game on Friday, Bryant told reporters that the passing plan was premeditated.

“I tried to make a real concerted effort to force the game upon my teammates a little bit and just have them play with confidence,” Bryant said. “Even the shots that are not going in, just try to push it on them a little bit.”

If Facilitator Kobe was as deliberate as we’re being told it should be easy to recognize against the Thunder, who will no doubt challenge Kobe’s ego in a matchup against two of the league’s other elite scorers in Thunder All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook, who much like Bryant has never met a shot attempt he couldn’t justify one way or another.

As much as D’Antoni and others would have led us to believe that Steve Nash (and not Kobe) would serve as the director of on-court operations for this team, we’ve seen enough now to know better than that. As long as he draws breath in a Lakers uniform, this is Kobe’s team and only Kobe’s team.

And we are talking about a player, in Kobe, who hasn’t exactly given up the ball at a record clip in the name of the greater good. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Friday night’s game marked just the fourth time in his 17-year career that Kobe played 30 or minutes and finished a game with more assists than field goal attempts.

Stunner, the Lakers are 3-1 in those games.

Again,we’re working with a terribly small sample size. But there’s a Hollywood saying that dates back decades, one that is regurgitated from time to time when convenient and appropriate, that might apply in this case.

“Big things,” it’s been said, “have small beginnings.”

The Return Of The Dwightmare?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Here we go again.

The Feb. 21 trade deadline is fast approaching and guess whose name is at the top of the list, just like last season? That’s right, Dwight Howard.  The formerly disgruntled Orlando Magic star has apparently been replaced by Dwight Howard, the disgruntled Los Angeles Lakers star. The Magic’s Dwightmare of a year ago now becomes the Lakers’ burden this time around.

And that means the wheels are turning in front offices around the league, what with the prospect of Howard becoming available before he becomes a free agent at season’s end, which for the Lakers could very well be mid-April.

These latest developments thrust other teams into the thick of the Howard sweepstakes, with prospective summer free-agent players Dallas and Atlanta joining the usual suspects (the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets) in the conversation. The Lakers’ pitiful season is what has reignited the Dwightmare dilemma … plus the fact that Brooklyn was his preferred destination all along.

And depending on who you listen to and what you read, there’s a dizzying array of possibilities being considered by the different sides in this saga.

RealGM.com’s Jarrod Rudolph reports the Nets are ready to finish what they started last season and finally bring Howard to Brooklyn, with Brook Lopez (and a third team needed to help facilitate a deal) as the return piece. Of course, there is the obligatory return volley that says Lopez is safe, from Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, the best part coming at the end: “It’s not the same as it was last year,” said a Nets source. “We don’t need Dwight.”

Interesting. But that won’t slow down the stream of rumors suggesting otherwise.

With the Lakers stuck in the 12th spot in the Western Conference playoff chase, no one outside of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash should feel comfortable in that Lakers’ locker room.

And if Kobe’s words, tweets and facial expressions mean anything, something has to change. Because it’s clear, as ESPN.com‘s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein point out, that the real crack in the Lakers’ foundation is the rift between its two biggest stars:

“Obviously, this isn’t working,” Lakers star Kobe Bryant told Yahoo! Sports after the Chicago loss.

“I’ve tried to go out of my way to get (Howard) the ball. Sometimes I end up looking like an idiot, because I get up in the air, I’ve got a shot, but I try to find him. But he thinks I’m going to shoot, so his back is turned. I’m trying to think about getting him the ball a lot — take care of him as much as I possibly can. It takes me out of rhythm a little bit, but I’m fine with that. If that’s going to help our team, I’m more than willing to do that.

“I’ve constantly tried to help him out, tried to talk to him,” Bryant continued. “Two o’clock in the morning, three o’clock in the morning. Texting him. Sharing reading materials. Anything to try and help him.

“He’s coming off a major surgery in a market where it’s just merciless; where there’s demands and responsibilities of athletes. It’s been tough on him.”

The blame in L.A. has been widespread, with both Howard and Gasol facing criticism for not battling through these tough times with the needed resolve. D’Antoni getting second-guessed with rising volume for not tweaking his spread-the-floor system to accommodate his marquee players and Bryant critiquing himself this week for missing too many shots on an 0-2 road trip that has spiraled into six straight losses away from Staples Center and three straight losses overall heading into Thursday’s game at Memphis.

If Lakers fans have to pick a side, Howard might as well start packing his bags now. In the past, they’ve chosen Kobe in landslides over former big man Shaquille O’Neal and ex-coach Phil Jackson, among others. Howard doesn’t stand a chance in winning over the fan base, the franchise and perhaps most importantly, the locker room.

It seems pretty obvious that Kobe and Nash have gone out of their way to make Howard feel as comfortable as possible and still these issues persist. With time running out on their season and that Feb. 21 escape hatch getting closer and closer, something has to give …

Trouble In Heat Paradise?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – LeBron James is 18 points shy of 20,000 points. The Miami Heat still have a slight, half-game lead over the New York Knicks for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Generally speaking, plenty is going right for the defending NBA champions at this stage of the season.

But a closer look reveals cracks in the Heat facade. In fact, there could be trouble in Heat paradise, if you believe what you see (1-3 on their current road trip) and read. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com provides the details:

The Heat are out of focus and they’re sniping. At their coach, Erik Spoelstra. At each other. Probably at their friends and loved ones, too.

Wade’s been in the middle of it a few times on the trip. Last week in Indianapolis, he scored 23 points in the first half of a game and then didn’t get a shot in the third quarter. Monday, he didn’t play in the fourth quarter — calling it a benching isn’t accurate — when Spoelstra decided to play James with four bench players as the Heat attempted a rally that fell short.

“I don’t know, I just always stay ready,” [Dwyane] Wade said curtly but not disrespectfully, much like he treated his disappearance from the offense in the loss in Indiana. “Coach makes the calls. I’m just a player.”

Wade’s body language said enough. Before the Heat left on this trip, Wade was asked if he missed the days of taking 20 to 25 shots a game. The days before James and [Chris] Bosh and being relegated to the third option some nights. Wade’s response: “Every day.”

A few days ago, Bosh said the Heat weren’t doing enough to ride players with “hot hands” after he was forgotten in the offense during a night when he shot 13-for-18 in a loss at Portland. He was referring to himself and Wade, the direction of the comment not being clear.

Bosh might want to pipe down after his one-rebound showing against the Jazz last night. Wade, on the other hand, makes a solid point. The Heat are definitely more formidable when he and James have it going as opposed to the Cleveland model, where James does all of the heavy lifting and his supporting casts simply observes.

All that said, a little friction for a team still operating in the afterglow of winning their first championship run together should be expected. There are enough new faces involved that the Heat will have to continue making adjustments as the season goes along.

Spoelstra probably enjoys this part of the process more than anyone, knowing that a united struggle (even one forged from the misguided perception of outsiders who assume that it’s something unusual, when, in fact, it’s not) makes it easier to get his team’s attention as the meat of the regular season plays out.

If nothing else, the Heat’s struggles (both real and imagined) will play out in vain, so long as they continue to do whatever they can to humble themselves the way they have after losses:

After the tough loss in Portland when the Heat blew a 12-point fourth-quarter lead last week, James gave this lament: “We’re not the most talented bunch. We’re not the greatest team. So we can’t afford to just pick and choose when we want to turn it on and off.”

Most basketball minds would say this team is the best team, talent-wise, James has ever played on. He is likely playing alongside three Hall of Famers in Wade, Bosh and Ray Allen. But James, who is in the middle of perhaps the greatest all-around season of his career, has been right with his teammates in passively complaining about the state of the union.

When he got out of the cold tub, James weighed in.

“It was low energy. Against a team like this, on their floor, with their crowd — you can’t have low energy,” James said of the first half, in which he had his best scoring first half of the season with 20 points.

Of the late-game comeback that happened with Wade and Bosh on the bench, James said: “We played well, we had a lot of energy. Offensively, we didn’t care who was shooting the ball.”

Forgive me for not believing the hype about all of this supposed drama that plagues the Heat. They’ve had a couple of tough nights over the past few weeks.

It happens to the best of ‘em, even the defending champs.

But it won’t last … not in paradise!

Warming Up To The D’Antoni Era




HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Kobe Bryant smiling.

Dwight Howard playing like the low-post behemoth we all know him to be. Paul Gasol at ease and Metta World Peace fitting in as well.

Seeing the Los Angeles Lakers in a groove and playing like the contender the world expected them to be has an almost eerie feel to it after months of uncertainty about exactly what this super team might be.

If this is what the Mike D’Antoni era is going to look like, it won’t be hard for the Phil Jackson loyalists in the party to get on board with the new regime.

The Lakers halting the Brooklyn Nets’ five-game win streak Tuesday night was just the latest in a string of winning performances from the same team that started this season 1-4 and greased the skids for Mike Brown‘s ouster. No one was asking for the Lakers to look like a championship team right away. They only wanted to see them win in a manner befitting of a roster stocked with several future Hall of Famers.

So even when they perform without the sort of spectacular offensive flair people have come to expect from D’Antoni-coached teams and show obvious reasons why they cannot (and will not) do so in the coming weeks, there is still reason for optimism. The promise of a long and bountiful future together is what has to excite Lakers fans about this Lakers-D’Antoni pairing.

Steve Nash isn’t even healthy right now, with no real timetable set for his return, and the Lakers are toe-deep in learning the system that has served so many so well over the course of D’Antoni’s career.

More than anything, the Lakers looked more comfortable in their own skin now than they ever did under Brown, who is no doubt watching now and wondering where the disconnect was during his tenure.

“We know what we’re doing out there and that helps,” Gasol told J.A. Adande of ESPN.com. “There’s not much hesitation and that contributes to limiting the mistakes. That’s the main key. Even though it’s a new system, we’re playing out of pick-and-rolls, pistol actions, pindowns, post-ups. Very familiar, basic stuff that, thanks to our personnel, we get so much out of.”

Any outstanding concerns about the Lakers’ defensive effort or Howard’s longstanding issues at the free throw line (which included the Nets employing the “Hack-A-Howard” defense down the stretch) should be eased by the fact that this is only the beginning. And in defense of big men with no shooting touch from the foul line, Howard’s struggles there didn’t prevent the Orlando Magic from making it to The Finals in 2009. Plus, the Jackson-era Lakers were certainly able to overcome Shaquille O’Neal‘s career-long deficiencies there, too.

There seemed to be a nervous energy surrounding D’Antoni’s true arrival (on the bench), a feeling that lasted all the way until the final seconds of his first outing. And that’s a good thing for a franchise trying to relocate that edge that fueled them to back-to-back titles just three seasons ago.

Don’t let the aw-shucks routine fool you … D’Antoni knows his stuff. And by now he is fully aware of the magnitude of the job he has signed on for.

Coaching the Lakers isn’t just one of 30 NBA coaching gigs. It’s like being the manager for the New York Yankees, the starting quarterback at Notre Dame or any one of a handful of truly iconic positions in sport that come with an extra set of rules, regulations and expectations.

Winning big but not winning it all, the way D’Antoni did in Phoenix, will not be good enough in L.A.

D’Antoni’s in an all-or-nothing situation with these Lakers and the clock is ticking. The same rule he applied for playing his biggest stars the biggest minutes apply to his situation as well and his knee replacement surgery rehab won’t get him any kind of pass.

“They make a lot of money,” he quipped. “They’re going to earn every cent of it.”

And so it goes for everyone associated with the Lakers these days.